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Arrests on charges of corruption shaking the course of the FIFA presidential elections, criticism from world leaders

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May 29th, 2015
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FIFA

FIFA

Zurich ( Agencies + DIPLOMAT.SO) – Leaders worldwide are playing football with the game of football — specifically, its powerful and polarizing governing body, FIFA. And as in a tough match, things are getting testy.

The comments and calls for action Thursday come a day after U.S. authorities announced the indictment against 14 soccer officials and sports marketing executives in a corruption investigation, and the opening of a Swiss investigation into possible shenanigans related to the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids that went to Russia and Qatar, respectively.

Some, like British Prime Minister David Cameron, have called for an end to Sepp Blatter’s presidency at FIFA.

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin

Not Russian President Vladimir Putin, though. He stood firmly behind Blatter in comments posted Thursday on the Kremlin’s website. And he suggested that politics has much to do with U.S. actions.

Along with the 2016 Winter Olympics in Sochi, the upcoming World Cup was supposed to be one of the crown moments for Putin during his second stint in office.

Russia got the 2018 tournament despite “pressure” on Blatter to prevent it from happening, Putin said — suggesting that’s one reason U.S. authorities went after his organization. (Along with being at odds with Russia on numerous world issues, the United States bid unsuccessfully for the 2022 World Cup.)

Calling it “strange” that U.S. authorities are charging FIFA officials even though that organization is based in Switzerland, Putin hinted that something more nefarious was at play.

“This is yet another obvious attempt to spread their jurisdiction to other (countries),” he said, referring to the United States.

Putin mentioned Blatter, who is seeking a fifth term during a scheduled vote Friday, saying he has “no doubt that this is obviously an attempt to prevent Mr. Blatter’s re-election (as) FIFA president.”

The Russian President then invoked the name of a man who — unlike Blatter — has been charged by U.S. authorities: Edward Snowden. The former National Security Agency contractor faces espionage charges for leaking confidential material online. He’s not in U.S. custody, though, having been granted temporary asylum by Russia.

“Our American partners use their own methods for their ulterior purposes,” Putin said, noting leaks by Snowden and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange about American spying methods. “They are illegally persecuting people. I do not rule out the possibility that the same goes for this situation with FIFA.”

FIFA has already announced the results of its own investigation into the bidding process for the two competitions, saying it found no corruption and had no reason to reopen the bidding process. (But Michael Garcia, the American lawyer who led the investigation, said FIFA’s public summary of his report was “incomplete and erroneous.”)

FIFA spokesman Walter De Gregorio said Wednesday that the two World Cups would go ahead as planned despite the Swiss investigation.

Holding the 2022 World Cup in the desert emirate of Qatar has already drawn criticism over the treatment of the migrant workers laboring to build the stadiums for the competition.

Officials have also had to change the dates of the tournament to the winter to avoid Qatar’s sweltering summer heat, raising potential scheduling headaches for other soccer competitions around the world.

Qatar beat the United States and other nations in the bidding for the 2022 World Cup. Australia, one of the other countries to lose out, has been outspoken in its criticism of the tournament dates being switched.

The arrests of FIFA officials in Zurich were rich in dramatic timing. They took place as representatives of the world soccer body’s member associations were congregating in the city ahead of the organization’s annual congress Friday.

The FIFA gathering, which this year includes a presidential election, appeared to have helped U.S. authorities by enabling them to have a large number of the defendants rounded up in the same extradition-friendly country.

The announcement of the U.S. and Swiss investigations prompted the executive committee of UEFA, European soccer’s governing body, to call for the congress to be postponed and election to be held at some point in the next six months.

UEFA leaders said European soccer associations would have to “consider carefully if they should even attend this Congress” and would be holding a meeting Thursday to “decide on what further steps need to be taken to protect the game of football.”

But FIFA’s De Gregorio insisted Wednesday that the congress was sticking to its agenda.

The question is whether any of the other members or confederations will follow UEFA’s lead.

Is Sepp Blatter going to win again?

Sepp Blatter

Sepp Blatter

Despite the scandal rocking FIFA, its incumbent president, who’s held the top job for 17 years, appears set to maintain his grip on power.

Prince Ali bin Al Hussein of Jordan

Prince Ali bin Al Hussein of Jordan

Bookmakers still have Sepp Blatter as the firm favorite to defeat his only remaining challenger, Prince Ali bin Al Hussein of Jordan, and secure a fifth term.

Blatter is not one of those arrested or facing charges from U.S. authorities, but he was among those investigated.

Asked if the U.S. investigation had cleared Blatter, Lynch said, “I’m not able to comment further on Mr. Blatter’s status.” Officials said earlier Wednesday that the investigation into Blatter’s possible involvement continues.

The Swiss agency that ordered the arrests of the seven facing extradition to the United States does not plan to question Blatter for now, a representative of the office said.

The office “will not question Mr. Blatter as he is not one of those detained, or in custody, and we are the ones who are responsible for extraditing the people we arrested,” the representative said Thursday.

Blatter is “calm” and “fully cooperative” with the separate Swiss investigation into the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids, De Gregorio said.

“He is not a happy man, he is not saying, ‘Everything’s cool,’ ” but he is glad the process is taking place because it is good for the organization, De Gregorio said.

Ali said Wednesday that FIFA needs leadership “that accepts responsibility for its actions and does not pass blame. Leadership that restores confidence in the hundreds of millions of football fans around the world.”

Seven of the 14 defendants wanted by U.S. officials were arrested Wednesday in Zurich, Switzerland, said U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch. The majority of them are contesting extradition to the United States, according to Swiss authorities.

The battle is set to play out in Swiss courts.

“I think there’s a very good chance there will be extradition,” said CNN legal analyst Paul Callan. He noted that Swiss authorities refused to extradite filmmaker Roman Polanski to the United States in 2010, but Polanski’s case is still rumbling on in the Swiss courts.

“There are always outs under these extradition treaties,” Callan said.

Extradition proceedings have also begun in Argentina and Trinidad and Tobago for defendants named in the U.S. indictment.

U.S. law enforcement officials say they’re not done yet.

The indictment unsealed Wednesday “is the beginning of our work, not the end” of an effort to rid global soccer of corruption, said Kelly Currie, acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York.

The people indicted Wednesday were all linked to soccer in the Americas, but it was unclear where the investigation might focus next and whom it might target.

Swiss authorities, meanwhile, are conducting their own investigation into bidding for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

The Swiss aren’t as far along in their investigation as the Americans, but officials said they suspect criminal mismanagement and money laundering took place during the selection process.

Authorities raided FIFA’s head office in Zurich on Wednesday, seizing electronic data and documents. Police plan to question 10 members of FIFA’s executive committee who took part in voting in 2010 on the World Cup bids.

How are FIFA’s lucrative sponsors going to respond?
Some of the biggest corporate names associated with soccer have already spoken out.

In a strongly worded statement late Wednesday, Visa called on the world’s premier soccer organization to “take swift and immediate steps” to clean up its act.

“It is important that FIFA makes changes now,” Visa said. “Should FIFA fail to do so, we have informed them that we will reassess our sponsorship.”

Earlier, another major sponsor, Coca-Cola, said the “controversy has tarnished the mission and ideals of the FIFA World Cup.” The company said it has “repeatedly expressed our concerns about these serious allegations.”

Other multimillion-dollar sponsors, including Adidas, McDonald’s and Budweiser’s parent company, Anheuser-Busch, also issued statements saying they were in contact with FIFA.

But it remains to be seen if any of them would go as far as severing ties.

Platini: I asked Blatter to stand down as Fifa president

Michel Platini

Michel Platini

The Uefa president has urged his organisation’s 54 members to vote against the Swiss due to the latest corruption scandal to hit the governing body

A tearful Michel Platini has revealed that he begged Sepp Blatter to stand down as Fifa president.

The game’s governing body is reeling after the arrest of several officials on Wednesday as part of an FBI-led investigation into corruption and money-laundering dating back to 1991.

Blatter has not been implicated in the enquiry but there have been widespread calls for the Swiss to resign given that it has been alleged by the US Justice Department that corruption was widespread within Fifa.

However, the Swiss is expected to be re-elected for a fifth four-year term at Friday’s presidential elections – despite growing support for Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan.

Indeed, Uefa president Platini admitted that he tried to persuade all 54 of his organisation’s members to vote against Blatter after the 79-year-old ignored his plea to walk away for the good of the game.

The former France international told reporters on Thursday: “I told him, ‘Sepp, I’d like to speak to you man to man, face to face.’ He said, ‘It’s too late. I can’t all of a sudden leave when congress starts this afternoon.’

“I told Sepp Blatter to leave, to step down, because he is giving Fifa a terrible image.

“It’s not easy to tell a friend that he must leave but that is the way history is going.

“I’m saying this with sadness, with tears in my eyes. There have been too many scandals.”

Ask whether he believed that Blatter would have quit his post had he been requested to do so earlier, Platini replied: “Yes. Yes, yes. I believe so, but I couldn’t have asked him a few weeks ago because what happened happened yesterday.”

As well as the arrest of Fifa officials by US authorities on Wednesday, Swiss officials also seized electronic data from Fifa premises as part of a separate investigation into allegations of corruption relating to the award of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar, respectively.

Platini admitted that European countries could choose to boycott the tournaments depending on the findings of the enquiry: “Uefa remains open to all options…

“Sometimes I have stomach troubles and that relates to Fifa problems.

“Honestly, myself as a lover of Fifa, I’m a great admirer of its history, I really don’t know where to put myself.

“I have had enough. Enough is enough. Too much is too much.

“Today we had a meeting of the 54 members. Tomorrow [Friday], when it comes to the election of the presidency, a very big majority of European national associations will vote Prince Ali.

“People don’t want [Blatter] anymore and I don’t want him anymore either.

“I have always said they want Fifa to be strong and Fifa is no longer strong.

“I am still trying to convince some [European football associations] who are not totally convinced.”

However, Platini admitted that all of Uefa’s representatives on the Fifa executive committee partake in a boycott if Blatter is re-elected.

The Juventus icon added, though, that he now believes for the first time that Blatter’s 27-year reign at the head of the global game could be about to come to an end.

“Before what happened yesterday [Wednesday], I would have thought not,” Platini added. “But enough is enough. People have really had enough.

“I think there will be a lot of changes but we’re going to continue working this evening.

“Prince Ali is young, he’s ambitious and that’s why I support him. He can do some good, he doesn’t need money.

“Things are a bit complicated in his region because he doesn’t have the support of his region but he’s a man that can do a lot of good.”

Voting against Blatter is blasphemy

Guinea-Bissau's president José Mário Vaz

Guinea-Bissau’s president José Mário Vaz

Guinea-Bissau’s president says Africa remains behind the Fifa chief despite the corruption scandal surrounding the organisation

Voting against Fifa president Sepp Blatter in Friday’s election would be “blasphemy”, according to the Guinea-Bissau FA chief.

On Wednesday, 14 football figures were indicted over corruption allegations with seven Fifa executives arrested for bribery and racketeering charges by US authorities.

A separate investigation saw the Swiss government open criminal proceedings into the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

The news prompted Uefa boss Michel Platini to call for Blatter to resign from his position, but one of Africa’s football association presidents Nascimento Lopes believes the Swiss is being unfairly targeted.

“I’m a Christian and this is blasphemy,” he told Insideworldfootball.

“It’s a state conspiracy. People are always trying to knock Blatter. Africa will vote for Mr Blatter and Blatter will win and I will follow that.

“I agree at some point there has to be change but let Blatter finish his mandate and see what he does. It’s not all about the major European football countries.

“If you point three fingers at someone, there’s is always one you point at yourself. Tomorrow we are going to vote for Blatter. How do we know anyone else would be any better?”

US federal authorities have presented a 47-point indictment against current and past Fifa officials, which includes claims South Africa won the bidding for World Cup 2010 after millions of pounds exchanged hands.

However, Lopes countered: “Let America show us the proof. Let the investigation bring the result. People say Blatter must have known about this but do I know other people’s secrets?”

Maradona: FBI have exposed the truth about Fifa

Diego Armando Maradona

Diego Armando Maradona

The former Argentina captain feels that the money earned by those accused of accepting bribes should be invested in a training camp for African children

Diego Maradona says the arrest of Fifa officials on corruption charges proves that he was not “crazy” to consistently question football’s governing body.

The former Argentina international, who guided his country to World Cup glory in 1986, has long been outspoken in his criticism of the organisation, which has been rocked by allegations that seven members were guilty of accepting bribes over a 24-year period dating back to 1991.

Maradona now feels vindicated by the indictments issued by the United States Justice Department as a result of an enquiry into Fifa’s affairs by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and queried whether Blatter can be re-elected at Friday’s presidential vote in light of the corruption scandal.

“People said I was crazy,” the World Cup winner told Radio La Red. “Today the FBI revealed the truth.

“The Americans did an impeccable job and now people have to explain what’s been happening.

“The good will remain and I will take care of the bad personally!

“The money they earn ought to be used to build a training camp for African children.

“FIFA has reserves of $1.5 billion (€1.38 billion) and there are players who earn no more than $150 (€138).

“Today there is no football, there is no transparency. Just lie to people and put on a show to re-elect Blatter.

“Now we’ll see if he gets re-elected after everything that happened. Where was Blatter when all this was going on?

“We want a man of football to be in charge. They came and tried to convince me with money, but I earn my money by working, not taking people for a ride.”

Blatter, who has branded the arrests as “unfortunate”, is bidding for a fifth term as Fifa president, having been re-elected four times since first coming to power in 1998.

The 79-year-old’s only challenger for the role is Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan.

Sepp Blatter must go.

Prime Minister David Cameron

Prime Minister David Cameron

It’s a growing chorus among pundits, world leaders and, now, European soccer’s most important official on the eve of the FIFA World Congress vote that could put the embattled leader of soccer’s scandal-ridden governing body into power for a fifth term.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, much as expected, announced he will be supporting Jordan’s Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, the candidate put forth by England’s Football Association to challenge Blatter’s 17-year reign over world soccer

“I fully support the Football Association’s position that significant and wide-ranging reforms are urgently needed at the very top of FIFA, including a change in its leadership,” he said, according to a statement.

Cameron spoke ahead of a meeting that is expected to be like no other. Embroiled in an unprecedented crisis that has led to the arrest of some its leading officials on corruption charges, FIFA will open its 65th Congress on Thursday in Zurich. FIFA will vote for a new president on Friday.

But while a British Prime Minister’s call for ouster may sound like it carries a lot of weight, we’re talking about FIFA, an autonomous body that has survived numerous corruption scandals and defiantly stood firm in the face of widespread criticism of its decisions to hand Russia and Qatar the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

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